"Women in management roles are no longer just "nice to have” - Interview with Sabine Betz
Ms. Betz, you have been very successful in the insurance industry for many years. Leadership positions in the finance and insurance industry are still largely held by men. Why is that still the case and what do you think needs to change in the future?
First of all, I have to say that I have noticed a significant change in the way management positions are filled over the past five years. I am convinced that the doors are now much more open to women and that women in management roles are no longer simply "nice to have." There is clearly management awareness of the importance of this issue, and not only in Boards but also at executive level. Nevertheless, and I agree with you, we are nowhere near where we want to be, and that also has to do with us women ourselves. In some cases, we are still too hesitant when it comes to taking on more responsibility and new areas of responsibility. I know this only too well from myself and can say that, whenever I have taken a next step, I have always been enthusiastic about my new task. I think, too, that we should motivate and help each other more and I am seeing a lot more movement here than before. And last but not least, we can make much faster progress towards a more appropriate share of women in management positions if we also give male colleagues more opportunities for part-time work and more flexible working hours. I definitely see much more interest among the younger generation to go down this path. Young fathers are undoubtedly different from our generation of fathers or spouses in the way they want to take on responsibility for childcare and looking after the family, and that will also be decisive on the way to higher numbers of women in management positions. So I am quite optimistic.
You yourself successfully manage to balance family and a career. What would you recommend to female employees who want to advance their careers as well as looking after their families?
It's important to work in a company where you have the feeling that you're really appreciated and supported, and where the corporate culture explicitly wants women in leadership roles who have families. For this to happen, the necessary flexibility has to be in place and also lived. Then it is essential to have the necessary courage at the right moment to take on new roles, even internally, to have the confidence to do something and, of course, to draw attention to oneself and one's ambitions beforehand. Women are often still too modest in this respect. And with a family, it is of course extremely important to share the "family activities" with your partner. In my case, my husband and I worked 80% for many years and thus we only had three days a week where our children had to be looked after by someone else. That worked out well. You also have to be aware that you can't be everywhere all the time, this applies to company events as well as private occasions and it is important to be really well organized here and also to be prepared to say "no" sometimes. If you take on too much, you will quickly become overloaded. But it is my experience that family and career are compatible if the conditions in your company as well as in your private life are right. If not, you have to have the courage to change them.
During your career, did you ever have the feeling that you were disadvantaged by your gender or that you had to travel a "rockier" path than men with comparable or perhaps even lesser abilities?
No, I wouldn't say I've experienced any real disadvantage. Because of starting a family, I probably didn't have as fast a career as I might have had as a man in a classic family set-up, i.e., with a wife at home or working part-time, or even as a woman without a family, but I was very happy to put up with that. My advice is not to put too much pressure on yourself. A career only makes sense if it is a happy career.
Which career step has taken the most courage for you?
Certainly, my two moves from one company to another. I'm someone who likes things to be familiar, even in a team, and that's why it was difficult for me. But in the end it was always the right decision, and it's still very easy to keep in touch with employees you've grown fond of. Basically, however, I think it pays to get to know a company really well and not to change too often. Your career may progress faster with many changes, but it is not necessarily a happy career.
As President of the Swiss Actuarial Association, you hold an important position on the side. In your opinion, is the topic of diversity or equality being addressed actively enough in the actuarial world?
I consider myself very fortunate to have always worked in an actuarial environment, as we actuaries are always ostensibly concerned with “doing the right thing”. We are very analytical people, and this usually leads to decisions being made based on what is the factually correct decision. It is less about who is right, who is most important, etc. This also makes interaction with others very pleasant; we are already very far within the actuarial community as far as equality is concerned. I think other industries can definitely learn from us in terms of fair dealings with each other. Of course, we actuaries are still dominated by men in higher management positions, so we still have some catching up to do. However, I have been seeing a lot of movement in the right direction in the insurance industry as a whole for about two years now, and that makes me optimistic. The topic of diversity and equality is being actively addressed in the insurance industry, and we as actuaries should, above all, help each other, for example with mentoring programs such as the one we have launched in the Swiss Actuarial Association.